Hospitals don't do enough for non-English speaking patients

Clear communication between caregivers and patients is essential to good healthcare, but according to The Daily Beast, the U.S. healthcare system is failing people who have little or no proficiency with the English language.

Of the 40 million foreign-born residents of the U.S., nearly half have limited English proficiency (LEP), writes Farah Khan, M.D., in the piece.

While there has not historically been an increased rate of patient morbidity associated with LEP patients, Khan says that there are risks to patient safety and barriers to accurate diagnosis and effective treatment when communication is hindered between patients and staff. Furthermore, LEP patients have lower patient satisfaction and poorer health education about their long-term needs and prognosis. They also typically have a less accurate understanding of their condition.

Hospitals have been aware of the growing need for interpreter services for years. Some healthcare institutions are turning to Skype-like services when interpreters are unavailable or resorting to handouts with pictures and numbers that do not rely on language to communicate. Complicating the situation is the need for clinically competent translators who understand medical terminology and procedures.

Although organizations often have interpreters available by phone or in person, too often physicians simply rely on an English-speaking family member to communicate with the patient, Khan writes. But this approach leads to numerous risks, such as family members who do not entirely understand medical terminology inadvertently causing a medical error. 

Lynette Reep, interpreter coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center, has embarked on a campaign to educate her colleagues about the challenges faced by hearing impaired and LEP patients in our current healthcare system, according to Seven Days. Reep says that her mission is to "provide language access in the interest of patient safety and to educate the organization as a whole about the link between language access and patient safety."

To learn more:
- read The Daily Beast article
- here's the Seven Days article